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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

August 19, 2007

Ask And Receive

“Don’t be surprised if I’m dead when you wake up tomorrow.”

Not what I usually expect to hear from my 6½-year-old son.

“I’m starving, and by tomorrow, I could die.”

Well, not really, I told him. It takes far more than one night to die of starvation. Especially after eating a big bakery cookie after day camp, a full dinner and a small bowl of ice cream before bed.

The ice cream was what was causing Frank’s problem, or, more specifically, the “small bowl” part. He wanted a second serving, and I wanted him to brush his teeth and go to sleep without a tummy ache and to wake up hungry for breakfast in the morning.

“But I’m hungry now!” he protested. “I’m starving.”

It wasn’t a moment that called for the starving- children-in-Africa argument, i.e., that you shouldn’t waste your food because so many people would be glad to get it.

But I did remind him that there really are people, children even, who do not get enough to eat, and he would be better off being grateful that he had plenty of food, before sending him off to brush his teeth.

Frank kept his temper up through bedtime, insisting that he wouldn’t say prayers with me because I obviously did not care about him. That’s OK, I told him. I’ll sit here and say prayers with Caroline, and you can pray on your own. But by the time we finished, he had joined in and he snuggled up for a good night hug and kiss, his imminent death forgotten.

As I turned out the light and shut the bedroom door, I wondered if maybe I should have given in. Frank’s a small kid, but he seems to be on a bit of growth spurt. When he and Caroline came with their dad to pick me up from work late one night, we stopped at Portillo’s on the way home because I hadn’t yet eaten. When we asked Frank if he wanted a snack— it being a few hours past dinner for him—he ordered an Italian sausage sandwich, and proceeded to eat nearly all of it. The ice cream wouldn’t have killed him, and it would have been easier for me to put him to bed all smiles and “Thank you, Mama!”

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” It’s a parental impulse, I suppose, to give children what they want, within reason.

And Frank knows what he wants most of the time. He made the point with someone trying to sell him on a boat ride on Lake Michigan (bouncy waves, great view, nice breezes—and only a half-hour) when he wanted the architectural boat tour on the Chicago River (lots of buildings and bridges, someone talking the whole time, an hour long). He got his river tour, and had a wonderful time, especially watching the trains near Union Station.

But sometimes, children—and adults for that matter—don’t always want what’s best.

Earlier in Chapter 7 of Matthew, Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

But he never promises that you will get what you asked for—or an extra dish of ice cream.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].